22 January 2008

what was that dream about?

have you noticed this? to believe politicians and pundits and our educational system, martin luther king, jr., only ever wrote one speech, and it was only a few lines long, something about little black boys and girls holding hands with little white boys and girls, and today his dream is a reality. i'd like to draw attention to the many other things he actually wrote and said, things that aren't mentioned when our leaders are trying hard to de-fang and co-opt his leadership.

these leaders would have us forget that king's legitimacy came from the grassroots, not the government -- some in hopes of absorbing that legitimacy for themselves (cf., in chronological order: romney, mitt; obama, barack; and clinton, hillary); some trying to erase the real, revolutionary liberation he spoke of, to reduce the risk that the oppressed masses might try to envision it and get ideas in their heads; and some to paint him as a polite friend to the status quo, praising his strategy of nonviolence and implicitly, by contrast, condemning the "bad" black leaders like malcolm x or huey newton. at least this year that asshat dinesh d'souza (i link reluctantly) was more honest, admitting he preferred booker t. washington to w.e.b. dubois -- the same exhausting narrative, from a hundred years earlier.

but these people all are simultaneously missing king's point and making it for him. he spent a lot of energy calling out unfulfilled promises and empty talk. i think that's worth remembering when people want to tell us about so-called colorblindness (or its more contemporary versions, "we're all just people"/"i'm a humanist"/etc and disparagement of "identity politics"), assert that "equality" has long been achieved, or promise that the Man will make things better as long as you are patient, play nice, and don't "alienate" any "potential allies". so here's some of the rest of that speech, for starters:
America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.

"i have a dream", 28 august 1963

and here's some from another:
Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never."

"letter from a birmingham jail", 6 april 1963

and here's some more -- you start to notice he says a lot of things that today's agenda-setters don't like to bring up:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: "To save the soul of America." We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear.

"beyond vietnam", 4 april 1967

Let me say finally that I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against this war, not in anger, but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and, above all, with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as the moral example of the world. I speak out against this war because I am disappointed with America. And there can be no great disappointment where there is not great love. I am disappointed with our failure to deal positively and forthrightly with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism.

"why i am opposed to the war in vietnam", 30 april 1967

Don't let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with justice and it seems I can hear God saying to America "you are too arrogant, and if you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name."
We must develop a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed annual income. Early in this century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation, as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual's ability and talents. ... Now we realize that dislocations in the market operations of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will.
The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts among husbands, wives and children will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth on the scale of dollars is eliminated.

Now our country can do this. John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God's children on their own two feet right here on earth.
And one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's market place. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them -- make them things. Therefore they will exploit them, and poor people generally, economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together. What I am saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, "America, you must be born again!"

"where do we go from here", 16 august 1967

general thanks for bearing with me, and sorry if i repeated stuff you already know. i just think this stuff is worth keeping around and reading from time to time, lest the de-fangers and co-opters start to regain ground.

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